Thursday, December 9, 2010

My New Favorite Band I Just Heard Of

No, not Mumford & Sons.  Although I did recently listen to their album Sigh No More just last week for the first time.  (And after this, I’m equally enamored with their sound, and perplexed as to how I missed out on these guys all year.) Definitely give them a listen.

But tonight I briefly want to mention a band I heard about on Sunday—and then again, and again.  The band Buke and Gass derives its name from the homemade hybrid instruments it members play: a baritone ukulele (“buke”), and a guitar/bass combo (a “gass,” naturally.)  They also use stomp-boxes, kick-pedal tambourines, and an array of custom distortion pedals all played through homemade amps tweaked to produce the unique sounds that populate their eclectic, but oddly catchy, songs.

As the owner of a homemade cigar-box guitar (hand-crafted by my grandfather), with an interest in creating more instruments, writing my own songs, as well as an open ear for cool local bands operating in the DIY mode—of course I was taken by Buke and Gass.

I first heard them perusing the 50 Favorite Albums of 2010 on the NPR Music website (as nominated by NPR staff in DC and at member stations.)  If you’re looking for a summary of 2010 in music and some new stuff for the iPod, I highly recommend this.  Surprisingly, the selections are more diverse than I expected, but I really appreciate this aspect.  (And unsurprisingly, the bands—and provided sample songs—are quality.)  But if you’re looking for a more passive way to get a sense of 2010’s best music, you could also listen to the latest All Songs Considered podcast, wherein the NPR music staff runs through their favorite new artists, albums, and songs of the year (many of whom I had the privilege to see in concert.)

As if a mention on both these lists was not enough, Buke and Gass also appeared at the NPR offices for a Tiny Desk Concert.  Again, you should watch it, especially if you want to check out their instruments—unique and experimental, if not especially unusual.  But as if this wasn’t enough coincidental publicity and exposure in single week, guess who’s profile appeared in the music section of the Village Voice?  Buke and Gass, of course. 

And wouldn’t you know it, they’re doing a concert this Saturday night at Mercury Lounge.  I love going to concerts (for anyone new to this blog), especially for hip local bands I first heard of less than a week before.  However, as it turns out, I will be working that evening.  Do not shed a tear on my behalf—I have cried into my growler of craft beer for many a night already.  But, if you’re anywhere near NYC this weekend, I highly recommend the concert.  And if you do happen to go, please don't rub it in (much.)

Saturday, December 4, 2010

One man's trash ...

Late last night, as I wearily scanned the blogosphere, my roommate entered my open bedroom door carrying a milkcrate.  As he set it next to me, I could tell that the uniformly similar objects contained within were collectively heavy.  And considering that my roommate had just come from a chilly walk outside, I had the strong sense that a pile of junk had just been deposited on my floor.

It took me all of a second to realize that he’d found a second-hand collection of two dozen vinyl albums—and nearly all of them in Spanish!

As I began to examine through this bizarre collection, I recognized the title of a song on the very first record and immediately played it on my turntable.  As “Los 3 Paraguayos" (a trio straight out of a Canadian world music festival) played in the background, I flipped through my new—and wholly unexpected—treasure trove.

Although this may not hold true with books any longer (you know, with the digital age upon us), with vinyl, eye-catching cover art remains essential.  And let me tell you, Spanish albums from the 1960s are particularly hilarious to see several decades and a language removed:

from serious portraits of male singers featuring their impressive guitars and/or facial hair,

to ensembles in native garb;

whether the Simon & Garfunkel of northern Brazil,

or the eight albums by famed Chicano singer Trini Lopez.
Apparently, the former owner is a big fan of TL—but now I assume he has the collected works on his iPod.
And there’s even a cover featuring a rotund Latino man in sombrero and bandoliers slouching next to a bottle of tequila—an album appropriately called Mexican Joe.   

Oh the hilarity!  I couldn't help but chuckle as I put on record after record, read aloud from the few English album descriptions, and attempted to decipher just what any of this milkcrate meant.  All I know is that I have some rather strange and enjoyable hours of music ahead of me (perhaps I’ll even pick up some Espanol.)  Now that I can entertain with style, I just wish I could host a swinging Sixties cocktail party, throw on a Trini Lopez record (they’re all good—especially The F**k Album), and dance about my apartment full of urbane, witty guests with a highball in hand. 

(By the way, did you know that Mr. Peabody went through a lengthy legal process to possess his boy, Sherman?  That’s right—he owns him.  Get on Netflix, grab a bottle of hooch, and watch a few episodes of Rocky & Bullwinkle—you’ll see what I mean.)

Civil Liberties, Cultural Relevance, and … Picture Books?

"At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide."  
                                                                                                                                      --Abraham Lincoln, 1838

While perusing the Internets during the week, I tend to keep an eye out for articles pertaining to the protection (or, more likely, the violation) of civil liberties or civil rights.  Oh, there’s nothing I like more than a story on Guantanamo Bay detainees, or gay marriage, or oppressed ethnic minorities to get my blood boiling.
This week, however, rather than the subjects of the articles themselves, I took notice of the authors’ arguments and evidence.  Specifically, I twice read an allusion to the same historical event—although to different aspects of the event.  Glen Greenwald (a civil liberties watchdog) and Akhil Reed Amar (a law professor), while addressing the legal and judicial issues surrounding suspected and convicted terrorists, each refer to the trial of British soldiers involved in the 1770 Boston Massacre.  

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Let's ... make ... a pie--an apple pie!

Tasty Habits, anyone?  Weren't you there?  Remember that show they did at WMUC above the South Campus Dining Hall--the night they promised "improved stage antics"?  And then they delivered by tossing marshmallows into the audience halfway through the set, and because it was a very small room with way too many people it got way too hot and all the marshmallows melted and stuck to the floor/our shoes?  How can you not remember that?  Well, that's why I baked this apple-cranberry pie.

Actually, it was for my office Thanksgiving party (from which I'm still full, despite leaving the office five hours ago.)  Yeah, those folks like their food & drink. I'm just sorry you didn't get to try my apple pie ... whoever you are.  Well, you can expect me to not stop making pies or going to concerts anytime soon, so eventually our paths will cross.

Soccer, Terps Soccer

After listening to the Maryland men's soccer team defeat the Tar Heels of UNC for the ACC tournament crown, I thought I might wax nostalgic about supporting this team throughout my four years in College Park.  Well, it looks like my friend Jason had the same idea and beat me to it on his own blog (which you should definitely follow.)  I, however, will post something I wrote up around this time last year (and would have posted to a blog if I'd had one)--when I took advantage of the opportunity to watch the Terps on the road in the postseason.

December 2009

So let's discuss my fanatic devotion to the Maryland Men's soccer team.  Actually, that can remain just a statement of fact—no need for dissection or analysis.  But, let me take you back to the origins of this peculiar affection ...

It was the second week of September 2004, about two weeks after I arrived in College Park.  I read in The Diamondback (the school paper) that the university would be hosting two season-open soccer games—the first of which would be played against the number one team in the nation, St. John's.  The Terrapins were ranked second in the pre-season poll.  So, it took me all of a second to decide that yes, I would like to watch  a match-up of the best two soccer teams in the country, for free, just a five minute walk from my dorm.  A little more research led me to discover the enticing back story of this game: in the national semi-finals the season before, the Red Storm (formerly Redmen) had eliminated the Terps.  So, now this high-profile game was suffused with drama, revenge, and a history of bad blood between the two sides—I had to be there.

And so, I trotted down to the track-ringed stadium that next Friday evening.  I was rather early (as I often was in those days), but already a group of students perched behind the goal in an elevated box of red seats.  I really didn't feel comfortable being in league with such dedicated fans just yet, so I took a seat in the front row to their left and watched the teams warm-up in the golden Indian summer evening.  Soon, the chairs around me filled with spectators—mostly students, who would stand during the game to overcome the horrible line-of-sight and depth-of-field issues a seat along the end line inevitably causes.  After player introductions and a tinny recording of the national anthem, the teams sprinted to their positions. 

The ball at center for the Terps ... and the referee blows his whistle.  The action is almost instantaneous.  This game is much faster than the one I played for the last four autumns.  One pass.  He dribbles.  Another pass.  Then another into the box, to a boot already stretching out ... Shot.  Goal.  Right in front of me. 

While cheering, I checked the clock—less than thirty seconds had elapsed.  As I marveled at the brilliant passing and effortless goal—a sublime series—I already knew I was hooked.  I decided to go to every home game until I graduated.  And I did. 

And tomorrow, I'll travel to Charlottesville, Virginia to watch them play our rival and sometime nemesis, the University of Virginia, for a spot in the semi-finals of the NCAA tournament.  We won it all last year, and three years before that--I was there. So the Terrapins are something of a good team, with a good chance of winning.  Judge this fandom as stupid or insane, or a waste of time and money, or just plain sad and lame.  And occasionally I will agree with each of those ... maybe.  But the thing is, I really don't watch TV, so let me have this.

Post Script:

On Friday December 4, we marched into the lion's den, and the team itself was chewed in its very teeth.  The atmosphere was perfect at the University of Virginia, our regional rival in proximity, in recruiting, in quality of education and reputation as a premier public university, in the length of our campus mall, and (perpetually) in athletics.  UMD lacks an in-state rival (Johns Hopkins providing competition only in men's lacrosse), but to the south of the Potomac we find one ready to respond in kind.  So, with a College Cup berth on the line, the UVA fans brought an intense atmosphere, while their team brought an impressive national champion-calibre performance.  They took an early lead and we responded well, but could not finish our scoring opportunities and went into the locker room at halftime without equalizing.  

And the Maryland Crew, boisterous from the start (tailgating helps with that), moved en masse to the other side of the field to confront the Cavalier fans head on behind their net.  A cheering show-down ensued.  But on the field, the Terps looked flat in the second half.  They gave up another goal.  And then failed to connect on a penalty kick—usually a gift wrapped score.  Before the final whistle, UVA scored again, to go up 3-0.  The pretty much shut us up.  All we could do was cheer for our demoralized players as we left the scene of the massacre in the heart of enemy territory.  A perfect defeat, and I'm glad I saw it. 

There you are.  The NCAA tournament begins tomorrow, and the Terps (who play on Sunday) have a smooth path to the College Cup.  Again, I'm still not sure why I care having graduated years ago.  It has something to do with once playing soccer.  But it's also about spending those fall afternoons (and chilly winter nights) mercilessly taunting goalies while watching the best soccer team in the country pull off win after win.  And bus rides.  And a guy named Sasho.  And the fact that UMD produces soccer players that go on to have successful professional careers.  Did I mention the camaraderie?  The group singing?  The traditions?  At least Jason and Maggie get it. 

Talking with Mr. Winchester

It’s not every day you meet one of your literary heroes.  But for me that day was last Wednesday.  And it’s even less likely that you actually correspond with said hero, and discuss with him an idea you have for a project inspired by one of his books—and receive an encouraging reply.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The author of such works as Krakatoa, The Map That Changed the World, The Professor and the Madman, Simon Winchester writes of all things I love: history, geology, travel, etc.  He pursues fascinating stories—and all the tangents that emanate.  Basically, he’s the (authentically) English Bill Bryson.  And if I can’t be the next John McPhee, then the next Simon Winchester would surely suffice. 

At the Upper East Side Barnes & Noble last week, Mr. Winchester shared with his far-too small audience, just four stories pertaining to his latest book, Atlantic: Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Storms, and a Vast Ocean of a Million Stories.  For nonfiction authors, I prefer this approach; the reading/interview format seems only appropriate for fiction writers, with their “creative process” and whatnot.  Essentially, his anecdotes covered the range of stories from a vast book about a vaster ocean: from the origins of his idea to write a biography of an ocean, to the odd rituals of the Viking-descended Faroe Islanders; from the isolated island in the South Atlantic that banned Mr. Winchester from visiting, to a shipwreck and heroic rescue on the Skeleton Coast of Africa.  Entertaining, and often humorous, Mr. Winchester’s stories provided a glimpse into his travels, his discursive and tangential style, and how a book eventually accumulates.

After a few less-than provocative questions, Simon Winchester took a seat for some book signing.  Now, when I saw him at a reading at Washington, D.C.’s Politics and Prose bookstore several years ago, I mentioned to him that while in London I had actually seen the subject of the book, The Map That Changed the World—William Smith’s 1815 geologic map of Great Britain.  It was a good talking point then, but … now I had no in. 

However, besides the copy of Atlantic I bought that night, I also carried with me a copy of Krakatoa—in which Mr. Winchester chronicles the 1883 eruption, geologic origins, and historical impact of this infamous Indonesian volcano.  Within a chapter on an Islamic uprising in Java in the wake of the eruption (and perhaps even initiated by the resulting turmoil), Winchester mentions the story of Eduard Douwes Dekker (no relation; none of my grandmothers were Dutch).  As a colonial official in the Dutch East Indies of the 1850s, Dekker witnessed administrative corruption—in both the personalities involved and in the bureaucratic system itself.  But the actual abuse and mistreatment of the natives compelled him to confront his bosses and, ultimately, to write a novel.  Dekker’s Max Havelaar, with it meta-narrative structure and overt autobiographical nature, portrays what he’d seen in just three months assisting the administration of coffee plantations not far from the island that would explode decades later.  His book was controversial of course, especially as it exposed the cruelties of the colonial system to an ignorant (perhaps willfully) Dutch public.  Needless to say, Dekker did not become popular in Holland, though he did become one of the nation’s best writers.  And eventually, Max Havelaar prompted the Dutch government to reform its colonial polices—initiatives that eventually led to Indonesian independence (which actually took until after World War II), as well as the Fair Trade movement

Now, Simon Winchester devotes all of three pages to this story (which is a lot considering the density of information packed into his books).  But I saw the potential for an entire book based on those three pages—an account of Dekker’s life, experience in Java, and influential novel.  And so, I read Max Havelaar, learned more about its author, and even laid out a rough outline.  And then somewhere in there I lost the will to put any effort into the project.  This is not the first time this has happened.  (If I ever mentioned either the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising or anything about RFK to you, these projects, just for the record, are in the same state of incompletion.)  But, how often would I have the opportunity to ask the very person who inspired me for his thoughts on the project?  So, I did.  I mentioned my fascination with Dekker’s story, and he told me that since time and place did not allow for a proper discussion, I should send him an email.   I thanked him, and left with signed books and an email to write.

In that email, I thanked for the signatures and laid out my project proposal—mentioning that my research was only preliminary and my intended audience: cool, young adults  who are into being inspired to action by historical figures and their tales of creativity and self-sacrifice in order to stand up for what is right.  Perhaps that’s a tad specific, but why write for someone else?  And I concluded by seeking out any research leads, or even just recommendations on how a modern historian should approach/consider this era and region.  And with that, I sent off my note to a rather busy man. 

But a man of his word, as it turns out.  He told me he responds to nearly every email that comes to him through his website, and I received a reply a just a couple days later:

It seems an admirable, fascinating - but perhaps not financially terribly rewarding  - idea; and I for one would love to read such a book.

I have a friend in Leiden who is familiar with the subject and might provide some leads; and one has to assume there is a biography in Dutch, so its author, if around, would surely help you too.

But the decision you alone must make is: is it worthwhile? On all levels, that is; not just monetary. You just might find the whole thing so spiritually and intellectually fulfilling as to trump the financial risk.

Do let me know what you decide,

Simon W.

Terribly exciting, right?  The only thing that baffles me is why I haven’t jumped right into this project.  I mean, if Simon Winchester is my audience—then why not just go write it?  I don't know why, but I haven't.  I don't know why.  I don't know.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Media Monday

Sitting in my office (just a few hours every couple days, as per my part-time schedule) with a widescreen monitor, I wait for a phone call.  Not a specific phone call, just any.  Inevitably, even on a Monday evening, someone will call inquiring about the arts organization for which I work—whether concerning ticket prices or subscriptions, or the failings of our website or program choices (as if I have any say in any of this).  But until that ring, I have the entire Internet before me.  And usually I peruse just a few sites regularly while catching up on bits of news, listening to music, instant messaging a friend, or watching a game or video.  This time around, I came across some new bands and interesting videos I would like to share with you.

First, the music.  Once again, NPR exposed me to a few songs that struck me, well, as enjoyable.  Either they were just pure fun—the Smith Westerns—or had a sound and groove that I may like to emulate if I ever get around to making my own music, as is the case with Burnt Ones and Demon’s Claws.  Maybe it’s just a matter of the selected songs outshining their others, but I will certainly investigate the bands themselves further. 

Speaking of back catalog and further listening, NPR provided in their First Listen Series songs from an album of Bruce Springsteen songs recorded in the late Seventies but never released (until now) due to a hiatus in his career brought by on certain lawsuits.  Just as with Bob Dylan, I am familiar with Springsteen’s work, but never really gave it much of a listen.  And just as with Dylan’s bootleg album I mentioned a few weeks ago, these unreleased songs are a fantastic introduction to Springsteen and prompt me to listen to more of his music from this era.  In these songs I was amazed to hear in the E Street Band the precursor to The Arcade Fire and other ensemble bands, as well as to learn that he wrote “Because the Night” and that only because Patti Smith was in the recording studio next to his that she got the opportunity to record this song—one of her most popular singles. 

And now, the vids.  Continuing with the music theme, the November 4th episode of the Colbert Report featured an interview with Elvis Costello, and closed with a duet sung by Colbert and Costello.  I don’t know why, but I just like this. I do perhaps because it is an uncanny way to end the show, but also for the opportunity to see a sincere Stephen Colbert (singing!) rather than his character.   

One of the sites I regularly visit while at the office, is Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish.  Some days, the articles infuriate or intrigue me.  Other days, I’m drawn to his “Mental Health Breaks” or poetic posts.  Although a video, this is not meant to secure one’s mental health.  Watch.  Yeah, I know.  Something that just has to be seen—a message that can’t effectively be conveyed any other way. 

Perhaps you’re sitting in an office yourself, reading this. I hope that I may have improved upon the dull, numbing milieu weighing on your shoulders, your eyelids … Wake up!  Fine, if you're so desperate, maybe Ok GO will keep you entertained:

This Too Shall Pass (Rube Goldberg version):

and This Too Shall Pass (marching band version):


and End Love:

Ah! More baked goods than writing! (the usual)

This weekend, keeping with the seasonal theme to my recent cooking, I baked two decadent dishes much to the delight of my cold, hungry roommates.

First, the pumpkin cake/bars with maple cream cheese icing and topped by bacon:

 Yes, that’s caramelized bacon on a cake.

I ran across this recipe on a food blog, took one look at their photo, and decided that it had to be made.  It makes a great dessert, but an even better breakfast.

Speaking of good breakfasts that can be also be a dessert, yesterday morning I whipped up a batch of apple cider donuts:
before the flip ...

... and after
 And here’s even a video of me frying the final (disastrous) donuts:

Please forgive the puns and misshapen results (delicious all the same, though.)  Actually, a mistake from the pumpkin bars the night before—a maple cream cheese icing that turned into a vat of rich caramel—turned out to be the perfect glaze: a sweet compliment to the fresh-fried dough as well as an excellent adhesive for the minced apple topping.

Oh, look: they read the New Yorker and the Village Voice with their doughnuts.  Well la-di-da ... A bit desperate to prove our Manhattan bourgeois cred, aren't we?
While the donut holes received a cinnamon-sugar treatment right out of the oil.

Yes, that’s how we do it up in Jersey City.  And this wasn’t even for guests!  Just stop in for a visit and see what kind of culinary madness you’ll be served (quite possibly on our roof, winter be damned).

Friday, November 5, 2010

A Latin American interlude

It’s been a while since something food-related prompted me to write here.  Let’s face it: it’s been over a week since anything inspired me to write.  I mean, well, I did cook minestrone again—more tomato-y and spicy.  And I cooked up a “weird” butternut squash soup, complete with fresh-baked bread (which my roommate insists I bake daily.)  But none of this was really blog-worthy.   Until today. 

On my lunch break, I strolled a block through the rain to pick up lunch from “Latin American Restaurant.”  Yes, that’s actually what it’s called.  Though the name is generic, the food is not.  And not only is it cheap as well, but you always leave with two-meals worth of food in your take-out bag.  I’ve only been there once before, but the way my co-workers rave about the food makes me feel like I’ve been going there for years.  It’s our neighborhood secret spot, and mentioning the name alone invokes a craving for filling meal (or two) of Latin soul food done right. 

Now, I’ve probably mentioned that pork is my favorite meat (yes, all you vegetarians and vegans out there—I do have a favorite animal I like to consume).  And I may have also mentioned that I’m particularly fond of the Latin American treatment of this meat—especially in Mexican cuisine.  (Although, Italy comes very close to clinching this place in my heart with its various cured meats.  And, of course, there are the multitudinous Asian takes on pork: buns, dumplings, ramen, and banh mi among them.)  So, whenever I venture into a Latin eatery, I go straight to the pork, whether burritos, tacos, arepas, or just plain ol’ roast pork with rice and beans.  I had had this before from “Latin American,” and even though I knew it would be a satisfying meal, I opted for a delicacy not readily available from the hot bar: mofongo.

Mofongo comes to the US via Puerto Rico, as well as the Dominican Republic, and actually traces its origins to the “fufu” of West Africa--a common dish combining a mashed starch with seasoned meat.  And in this case, the mofongo combines two of my favorites: fried plantains and roast pork, cooked into a solid cake.  Fantastic, right?  It was.  The texture of the dense banana/meat is odd initially (for those of us unaccustomed to this combo), but the taste overcomes any such qualms.  Actually, to do that benefits from a hearty dose of the mystery sauce.  That’s right, “mystery sauce.”  To my surprise, a coffee cup accompanied my mofongo to the staff lounge.  Opening the lid let escape a delicious aroma.  For whatever reason, I always trust in a mystery sauce—it’s usually made with love, as well as the drippings of items cooked earlier in day.  In this case, it looked as if it was ladled straight from a vat of roasted pork.  Drizzle this on your mofongo—done. 

Yes, this rich meal was a nice deviation from the routine, but even the experience at the restaurant was satisfying in a way.  Since my order was not pre-made, I waited at the counter for ten minutes in the very midst of the hustle and bustle—with hardly a word of English spoken.  Phone orders came in fast and furious, with the matron of the joint belting them out to her team of servers rushing to fill tins, cups, and bags for delivery.  For whatever reason, I felt content to be immersed both a foreign language and the business of the restaurant at full lunch-rush tilt.  I would have savored all this by eating at the counter, but with all the food that would have arrived on my plate … I felt it best for it to come already in its doggie bag, aka tomorrow's lunch. 

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Breakfast Scenery

Unfortunately, this is all I could muster to post this weekend. 

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Earworms ... and a few of my favorite bands

For the last couple days, Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks” has been stuck in my head.
Have a listen. Sorry there’s no Zeppelin concert footage, but the song (as it turns out) was difficult to reproduce live and thus rarely performed on stage.

Now you understand what I’m talking about when I say it’s stuck with me:  the pounding drums of John Bonham, a wailing harmonica and Robert Plant, and the sliding guitar courtesy of Jimmy Page.  An absolutely heavy sound, right?  I love it.  And not only is this the closing song to an amazing album (Led Zeppelin IV—which also includes “Rock and Roll,” Black Dog,” and the little-known “Stairway to Heaven”), as well as perhaps the epitome of Zeppelin’s sound, but “When the Levee Breaks” represents the apogee of British blues music—the appropriation of American blues songs and aesthetics popular among British rockers such as Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Led Zeppelin.  That’s just my (rather uneducated) opinion.  But I will say that not only does this song carry an authentic depth and groove (if not sincere pain), but the lyrics are taken from an actual Delta blues song written after the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. (Check out Wikipedia for information on the original song and a description of Zeppelin’s incredible and pioneering production techniques.)  Sure, a bunch of white, English rock stars appropriating a sorrowful song composed in the wake of a defining tragedy—for the South, for southern blacks, and for blues music—may strike some as strange and perhaps even inappropriate.  But, in doing so, Led Zeppelin revived and continued a traditional aesthetic, the blues—the musical genre at the very root of the rock music they created and dominated. 

And the fascination with the blues continues to this day in America.  Some of my favorite bands tap into the blues aesthetic; again, hearkening to their predecessors while further developing the sound (despite the many aspects of the blues already incorporated into rock & roll).  First, there’s the White Stripes, of course.  Basically, every time I attempt to write a song—whether it’s the lyrics, or the guitar part, or if I’m just humming to myself—I want it to sound like a White Stripes song.  Jack and Meg White may be eccentric, and not every song a winner, but they are dedicated to running the guitar/drum Detroit blues-thing into the ground.  

And speaking of modern blues-rock duos, I’ve also gotten into the Black Keys, which has created its own heavy, blues-inspired sound.  However, the song of theirs stuck in my head this week doesn’t really operate in that mode.  But, I think you’ll enjoy “Everlasting Light” all the same.  Good, isn’t it?  They have something like five albums that I’ve only just barely begun to acquaint myself with.

And this brings me to two other guitar/drum duos I’ve only recently discovered/experienced live: Wye Oak and Japandroids.  Named after the late great oak tree that once lived on the Eastern Shore, Wye Oak hails from Baltimore and its unique music scene.  Although I don’t have any of their songs, and thus no great insights into their music, I did see them live this summer:

Once again, I must pay respect to NPR, since I only became aware of Wye Oak the week before the festival when I watched their Tiny Desk Concert.  The office concert displays their approach to songcraft and Jenn Wasner’s vocal abilities, but only hints at their overall sound.  On stage, the two of them produced a volume of sound: a distorted guitar wave, supported by percussion and keyboard (both handled by Andy Stack.)

I guess to be a good rock duo nowadays, you must generate a saturating, powerful sound in order to compensate for the dearth of contributing band members as well as to provoke the audience and disturb their expectations (eg. “How can two people be so loud and rock so hard?)  But certainly another aspect of these bands must surely be the challenge of their limitations, and when they succeed in surpassing those creatively ... good stuff results.  And although their sounds may vary from gritty blues-rock to hazy folk ballads to hook-driven garage-style noise rock, these types of bands are solidly among my favorites (though perhaps it’s because I can see myself in a band like this—sort of like the singer/songwriter thing I mentioned in an earlier post.) 

Japandroids!   You thought I wasn’t going to elaborate on this unusually named band, didn’t you?  Well, as a matter of fact, I just returned from their concert down at Maxwell’s in Hoboken (pretty much the best venue around).  And although it’s late and my ears are still ringing, I will write on.  Japandroids are from Vancouver, Canada and should rank among our northern neighbor’s greatest musical exports: Rush, Barenaked Ladies, Neil Young, Leonard Cohen, Paul Anka, Feist, Joni Mitchell, K-OS, The Tragically Hip, The Arcade Fire, Bryan Adams … wow, that’s kind of a lot.  Go Canada, and go Japandroids!

Well, first we listened to the opener, Oberhofer, do their thing.  Turns out, that thing is some good, fun, straight-up rock.  And apparently, it’s all the brain-child of lead singer Brad Oberhofer, who produced and played all the instruments on his albums.  Then, Brian King and David Prowse stepped up to deliver their final concert of what has been a year-and-a-half tour (but their first show in NJ!).  Brian informed us that since it was their final night, they were going to let it all hang out—despite their strained voices and road-weariness.  And they delivered.  On stage, just a mad-distorted guitar and some drums trying to hold the rhythm—and the energized combination produced some seriously catchy/grungy songs.  A pit moshed (occasionally), a roadie crowd-surfed, and many lyrics were shouted: good times down at Maxwell’s, courtesy of this Canadian duo whom I’m very glad I caught before they retreated to the Pacific Northwest.   

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Food! (this is just what happens when I have time on my hands)

For Sunday night football:

roasted taters (so crispy and sweet!)


and good Belgian-style beer (courtesy of Brooklyn Brewery)
And for brunch, apple crisp:

Would have liked the streusel to have been a little more cooked and gooey … but a delicious way to use up the last of my Granny Smiths.

And for dinner?  Minestrone, of course!

Next time, I’ll have to bake my own bread.

Oh, and at some point I made oatmeal chocolate-chip cookies: 

And as a finale, everything pumpkin muffins:

with chocolate-chips, cream cheese, and streusel

Flatiron x 3




Sunday, October 24, 2010

Damn you, Village Voice!

Ok, well, now that the secret’s out, I can mention it on this blog: Jersey City happens to be the location of the best movie theater in the area, the Landmark Loews Jersey Theatre.  And thanks to the Village Voice, the rest of the region heard about the coolest thing in Jersey City (although my apartment rooftop is pretty sweet).  And thanks to this printed alt-weekly, hordes of people descended on Journal Square last night.  Well, besides the positive press, perhaps it also had something to do with the evening’s film: Nosferatu (1922), a silent film shown with live organ accompaniment (a pipe organ that is, not hearts or livers.)  Yes, the largest crowd in the recent history of the theater (though built in 1929, the theater was saved and restored by volunteers to begin showing films nine years ago) turned out for Nosferatu, a silent German-produced version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.  Despite being an unauthorized version of the story, it’s perhaps the best on-screen rendition.  It was incredibly quirky, with an iconic (though not so horrific) villain.  Plus, there was the organ providing the entire soundtrack!  Although an evening at the Loews always features some organ music, silent movies with the organ are still a rare treat—something straight out of a bygone era.  And now thanks to the Voice (and the Friends of the Loews’ own publicity), more people will be coming to enjoy the experience of seeing a classic film in one of the last great movie palaces around

Thursday, October 21, 2010

More ... everything.

I really wish that whenever I have a particularly sucky day in my life, I could head off to a small bar in Brooklyn and listen to Sharon Van Etten sing with her band.  Yes, I went to see her again, this time as part of CMJ Music Fest headlining an afternoon line up at Bruar Falls (named for actual waterfalls upstate)—a setting even smaller than Mercury Lounge  And while the last concert was a vocally stunning, sincere, and flawless performance, this one was casual, fun, and, well, sloppier.  Example: Sharon began playing one of her songs twice without realizing that it was not played with a capo; third time was a charm.  And unlike last time, her back-up singer was not present, and the drum and bass had more of a presence on stage (ie. they were louder than before).  Actually, I’m really glad it wasn’t at all like before; I’ve realized I don’t exactly like going to see a band more than once (although I’ve made exceptions for We Are Scientists (I took my uncle the second time), and Screaming Females (the first few times were in huge venues, and they were just openers)).  But I just had to see SVE again, and when I heard that after a few shows in the region she would be stopping by Brooklyn … well, you know the rest

Oh, I just so happened to recognize the band that played before her, Lower Dens, from a Tiny Desk Concert I watched a few days ago.  And I’ll have to say, they are a band not fit for the limitations of an office; I really wasn’t impressed with … well, the band looked bored, the vocals sounded dull, and the guitar parts seemed rather simple—stuff even I could pull off.  But at the show last night, Lower Dens had all their equipment, and filled the bar with a big hazy, distorted noise set over a driving beat.  And fortunately, enough heads blocked my view, so I didn't actually have to see their guitar fingering. Overall, not too bad, but best experienced live.

Actually, the day wasn’t really that sucky, especially considering I had lunch here:

A nice cozy space, with good service and chefs—and pretty good sushi (at an even better lunch special price).  If you’re ever in Murray Hill around lunchtime and don’t feel like going to any of the two dozen Indian places in the neighborhood, then check out Umi Sushi on 31st St. b/t Park and Lex.

Oh, and today, I concluded my relationship with the Madison Square Mark’t “Food Square” with a lamb meatball hero:

Featuring three large meatballs set in a hearty baguette, the sandwich came with tomato sauce, a cilantro-based salsa verde, and ricotta salata shredded on top.  The combination of flavors was good, and the meatballs themselves were especially delicious, but I kept hoping the green stuff would be mint rather than cilantro.  I mean, mint jelly goes with lamb, so why not make a salsa with fresh mint leaves?

Also, Flatiron from today and yesterday:

And I noticed these hundreds of lightbulbs hanging in the middle of Madison Square Park, with more art installations coming in the next few weeks:

Oh, and apparently the Chelsea Hotel—a historical and cultural icon to New York and the neighborhood—is up for sale, rending its future uncertain. 

Although I have no really connection or any particular love for the building, I’d hate to see it go to an owner who will ignore its special history, as in the many celebrities and artists who have lived or died there.  But then again, it’s not that old … and how long can we really hang on to these kinds of landmarks?  Especially in Manhattan, where so much history has been torn down and subsumed by the onward (and upward) march of Progress?  But then again, what is Progress?  And do we want to live in a city that does not recognize and cherish the unique features that make it what it is?  thegreatestcityintheworld  Ahem, excuse me.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Back in the kitchen (for a night at least)

Finally, a day off.  Not only could I take care of some chores (dishes!), but I could finally cook a meal for my roommates (whom, conveniently enough, would also be free in evening.)  I’ve been waiting to cook both potatoes au gratin and pork chops with apples & onions—as well as gingerbread cupcakes—for over a week.  I found a few recipes online, and made my selection based on shortest preparation time.  Everything turned out well, but perhaps would have been better if I’d used the longer-timed ones.  For example, cooking the potatoes longer on a lower heat—and not adding the final cheese topping until the last minutes.  Or with the pork, doing a longer braise (an actual braise, that is) in the oven, after searing the meat.  Well, this is how we learn.  Unfortunately for you, you may only observe the results best experienced in person. 

pork, apples, onions

taters ... a little too crispy

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Jersey Rocks! (and I don't mean the Boss or Bon Jovi)

If you pick up the recent issue of The L Magazine you’ll see Jersey’s own Screaming Females on the cover, with an interview of the three piece rock band inside. 
Screaming Females rocked Siren Music Fest in July

I’ve seen them a couple times--including an intense set as the headliners at Maxwell’s back in August--and I’m still impressed by lead singer Marissa Paternoster’s consistently sick shredding song after song.  Here's a video introduction to the band:

And just a couple months ago, Titus Andronicus, another hard-working, hard-rocking band out of New Jersey, graced the magazine’s cover.  Check them out as well: and

And I’m all for this trend of Jersey rockers taking it to those wheez-e-lectronic Brooklyn indie folks.

NPR and New Music, Part 3: All Songs Considered radio

Yes, I enjoyed Pandora at one time, and very much appreciate the existence of Grooveshark.  But sometimes, rather than choosing songs or artists myself, I want a radio channel with both a quality and varied selections.  And now, I've found that.  

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of All Songs Considered, its producers created a streaming 24/7 channel of songs featured on the program over the last decade.  Give it a listen.  If you don't like what you hear, give it a couple minutes, the song will change--probably to a completely different genre (though never pop, country, or hip-hop ... why the bias against these, NPR?)  And a list of recently played tracks is always at your disposal, a nice feature for the ignorant and curious like me.   

NPR and New Music, Part 2: Albums old and new

Among the many ways to get a taste of what's new (podcasts, interviews, and articles), my favorite might be NPR Music's First Listen series (although their live concert archives are fun, too.) Almost every week, NPR streams an upcoming album until its release date.  Cool, right?  Two recent favorites:

The Bootleg Series Vol. 9: The Witmark Demos (1962-1964) by Bob Dylan


Down There by Avey Tare (of Animal Collective)

Although I possess an inadequate collection of his works--and perhaps a corresponding under-appreciation for his music and influence--I do like Bob Dylan.  And now, I especially like these early songs, particularly for their topicality and the simplicity of their recording (remember my thing for acoustic-playing dudes.)  As for Avey Tare, it's some good electronic/vocal stuff, and I'll give it another listen--but there's a reason the Animal Collective is a collective, and why their Merriwether Post Pavilion is great.  After some good solo efforts, I do hope they boys get back together for another album, though they set a high standard for themselves. 

NPR and New Music, Part 1: Office Acoustics

Acknowledging that NPR Music is the ur-source for all the cool music that will appear here, and that I am merely ripping it from their website, please allow me to direct to some of the great things I've discovered recently.

First, three Tiny Desk Concerts by acoustic-guitar wielding, singer/songwriter guys: two European dudes, and one quiet American.  All of them are talented lyricists, with stiking voices to match their words-- and they can handle six-strings rather well:
I'll admit, I do have a thing for this type of artist ... from the early Folkies (Woodie Gurthrie, Pete Seeger, and Bob Dylan unplugged) to more contemporary singers (Josh Ritter, Elliot Smith, etc.)  I admire their poeticism and politics, and especially the immediacy of their approach.  And I guess this interest also it stems from the fact that I can sort of see myself becoming one of them (if not an author of some kind).  And while the brief concerts in the NPR Music offices force large (often electricity-dependent) bands to scale back and strip down, for these guys, the transition from the stage was easy--and created an even greater intimacy and focus on songcraft than a typical performance.  Enjoy.